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The Fort Worth ex-police officer who shot and killed Atatiana Jefferson at her mother’s home in 2019 was convicted of manslaughter by a jury that deliberated on Wednesday and Thursday.
The jury rejected the more serious charge of murder, and sentencing will come later. Under the Texas Code, the prison sentence for manslaughter is between two and 20 years.
Aaron Dean, 38, a white police officer, resigned from the Fort Worth Police Department days after fatally shooting Jefferson, a 28-year-old Black woman.
In a press conference two days after the shooting, Fort Worth Police Chief Ed Kraus apologized to Jefferson’s family and the Fort Worth community.
“Had the officer not resigned, I would have fired him for violations of several policies including our use-of-force policy, our de-escalation policy and unprofessional conduct,” Kraus said at the October 2019 press conference.
Jefferson’s 8-year-old nephew was in the room at the time she was killed. They had stayed up late playing video games. Now 11, he testified during the murder trial this week. When asked what he thought after seeing his aunt was shot, the nephew said, “I was thinking, is it a dream?”
Dean and Carol Darch, another Fort Worth police officer, responded to Jefferson’s mother’s home after a neighbor called a nonemergency police line requesting a wellness check because he noticed the woman’s door was open, something he found unusual.
However, the police chief said the officers responded to what he described as an “open structure call,” which is different from the procedure for a wellness check.
According to Kraus, this kind of call includes officers parking away from the house and approaching with caution, whereas a wellness check would have begun with a knock on the door. It’s not clear why the officers responded with an open structure call rather than a wellness check.
In his testimony, Dean said he believed there was a burglary at the home and while he was in the backyard he saw a gun pointed at him.
According to The Dallas Morning News, footage from Dean’s body camera shows him walk to the back of the house, then turn toward a window. He yelled at Jefferson — “Put your hands up! Show me your hands!” — then shot her through the window in seconds.
Both the defense and the prosecution called on their own use-of-force experts to testify, each offered differing assessments of Dean’s actions on Oct. 12.
At the time of her killing, Jefferson was living with her mother. A graduate of Xavier University of Louisiana, she had aspirations of becoming a doctor.
The shooting came less than two weeks after former Dallas police officer Amber Guyger was sentenced to 10 years in prison for the murder of 26-year-old Botham Jean in his Dallas home. Guyger said she mistook Jean’s apartment for her own, one floor below, and shot and killed him after entering it.
Jean and Jefferson’s deaths drew attention to the fraught relationship between race, policing and the American criminal justice system, which later gained even more national scrutiny following the murder of George Floyd by a white Minneapolis police officer in May 2020.